LOS ANGELES — The presents have been opened, and you've been curled up reading the new Steve Jobs biography, a gift from your dad. You find a surprising detail and call to your significant other, “Did you know …?” but because he is making dinner, the idea fizzles as you turn the page.
Or maybe when you get to that passage, with the swipe of a finger you highlight it and email it to your dad, adding a thanks for his gift. Or you click to add your thoughts to a chorus of readers who found the same passage interesting; or you check to see if there's a link to a video clip; or you find an annotation from the author; or you post it to Twitter or Facebook or Google+, where others can comment, too.
That's called “social reading,” and it's coming to an e-reading app or device near you.
“Increasingly, the devices we use to read — the Kindle, your iPad, various types of phones and other devices — they're connected,” says James Bridle, a British writer and publisher at the forefront of e-book development. “They have a whole bunch of capabilities that the paper book didn't have.”
Amazon was an early entrant into social reading; people reading on its Kindle can post favorite passages to Twitter and Facebook. It hasn't gone much further than adding limited annotation.
Kobo, Canada's most popular e-reader, has picked up where it left off. When using Kobo's devices (and apps for the iPad and Android tablets), users read with Kobo Pulse, an interactive, multifaceted interface. Externally, a single click with Kobo Pulse will tell Facebook or Twitter what you're reading or post a passage. Inside the book is dynamic: You can see who else is reading what you are, join in on or start a comment string on a page, view statistics about the book and see others' comments within it. A bookmark drops where you left off reading, and statistics about your reading habits accrue. So far, it's the most fully developed social reading interface from an e-reader.
One of the most ambitious independent social reading applications is Subtext. Built for the iPad, Subtext offers the social reading elements with the bonus of content from authors. As with any other kind of social networking, people using it want to go where their friends are. You might find hundreds of others reading the same book in Kobo, or no one. That's partly because there are other places to look. U.S.-based Copia was an early player, but European companies have recently debuted more sophisticated interfaces. And most of those applications can't share.
The challenges to social reading may present too much of a hurdle for some. But wouldn't it be nice to find someone to talk about what you just read on Page 57 of Walter Isaacson's “Steve Jobs”?
MCT Information Services